Mary Walker: Governments of convenience



Mary Walker

Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to correct the country where a banana costs what a two-bedroom house cost 10 years ago. It is Zimbabwe.

Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tas­­a­ru Girls Rescue Centre in Nar­­ok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 and provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Wal­ker’s updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steam­boat Today.

I am not a political scientist. That having been said, the development of “coalition governments” to solve power struggles in African countries will not work in the long run. Sure, in the short run, convincing the sitting president (and losing candidate in an election) to share power with his opponent in order to avert violence seems like a good idea. In Kenya, it brought an end to two months of ethnic violence, more than 1,000 deaths, and 200,000 people losing their homes. In Zimbabwe, it seems to be helping with inflation so bad that a banana today costs what a two-bedroom house cost 10 years ago. Someone recently told me that a Zimbabwean currency with 15 zeros is absolutely worthless.

I’ve heard these types of governments called “marriages of convenience.” Yes, they are terribly convenient for the men involved in running things; men who refuse to give up the power and perks of their position even in the face of defeat in democratic elections. Rather than accept this defeat, they simply refuse to leave office. Thus, a coalition government is formed to appease the sitting president, give some power to the opposition and quiet unrest. But it is not convenient for long. As one recent editorial in a Kenyan newspaper noted, partners in coalition governments don’t codify their power sharing — does it mean cutting the bread loaf in two, or one party getting the bread, eggs and milk and the other party the sausage, butter and jam?

In Kenya, this failure in distinction has just come to a head. Last week, the prime minister sacked the Minister of Education and his permanent secretary. That evening, the president said the prime minister did not have that authority. In the absence of a new constitution that formally outlines the roles of prime minister and president in Kenya’s coalition government, they are both right — and both wrong. Convenient, huh?

And in all of the confusion about who has the right to do what, what gets conveniently lost is the fact the Minister of Education and his permanent secretary are involved in $1.5 million gone missing from the Education Department. Men in power always win in this kind of environment — the losers are the people of Kenya trying to feed and educate their children.

It is being said that throughout Africa, coalition democracies are the new wave and the best chance at stability for the continent. Reading between the lines, this means that it will become increasingly difficult for there to be peaceful and legal elections and that the only solution to short-term instability is coalition governments. The long-range problems will just have to be dealt with later, right? Twenty-nine countries on the African continent will hold “democratic” elections between now and December 2011. It will be interesting to see just how many of these elections result in coalition governments.


kathy foos 7 years, 1 month ago

Sure starting to sound like the united states with the ehtnic violence(gang warfare),200,000. losing their homes,inflation(banana costing as much as a home,that could be the worst inflation in the world if true),missing money,people grabbing power any way they can,and doing whatever they want with out responsibility,Oh yeah the people are the losers of course,just like here,what are we supposed to do about Africa?We have the same things happening here that you mention,I guess that is what they call globalization and all encompassing universal economy.Im sorry for Africa but what about the U.S.?Africa is really none of my business as a voter,maybe I should write my president,my senetor,or should I start writing to Africa?Maybe Africa residents should write my president for me?So confusing what to care about and where!


mary walker 7 years, 1 month ago

From Mary Walker: First, my apologies, It is in Zimbabwe where the banana/house cost inflation rests and also their currency with 15 zeros that is worthless. Not Tanzania by any means, where things are relatively stabile, and in the aftermath of the post election violence in Kenya two years ago, tourism is booming. Sometimes writers make errors, not from ignorance but just simply fingers that move faster than brain waves. Sorry for that really ridiculous error on my part. Second, it is the scope of the problems in Africa, if one wants to generalize, that are the issue. The extremes between the haves and the have nots in a country like Kenya are exponentially different than in the United States. In Kenya, 80% of the population is rural, meaning no electricity, no clean water, few schools. In the United States, even for the poorest of the poor, clean water is available at a public library, a police station, or a church - meaning water that won't kill you as it can in Kenya.


MrTaiChi 7 years, 1 month ago

Is it a fair question to ask, “What is it about sub-Saharan Africa? Why alone, among the former European colonized regions does it seem unable to form democratic governments that comply with the rule of law?” There is the exception of Myanmar, but generally, particularly colonies that were formerly British that are not in that region, seem to have functioning democratic governments. (the Carribean, India and Pakistan?, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Micronesia; the Islamic Middle East is a whole other discussion); South Africa, long removed from British colonialism, seems one incident away from the ANC reverting to burning tires around living necks. Zimbabwe was formerly the breadbasket of Africa, now just a basket case. The one distinguishing characteristic I see is tribalism, apparently a stronger force than Marx and Engels ever perceived. It exists even in America, in Irish South Boston, for instance, but at a level of intensity that pales in comparison to Africa, where the artificially created state borders seem secondary to tribal identity and an ingrained tradition of strong man government and spoils to the winner. Any comments?


ybul 7 years, 1 month ago

Mary Sun's point should be taken. What is it that made the US what it is/was? I would argue that it is the fundamental right of the individual to own property, the protection of the individual from the will of the majority.

In Zimbabwe the government took farms from good farmers and cut them up and gave them away as is being done in Venezuela. The government thinks it knows how to best run our lives and in Zimbabwe has the taxing power to print money and essentially take anyones money from them without cause.

The $1.5 million that went missing, is the problem with concentrating power and money within an institution. It is far better to build a house from the foundation up as opposed to from the top down, trying to rest all of our hopes upon the ideas of a small group of people. When building a stable system it is always best to have as many ideas as possible working at once, those that work will thrive and those that do not will be thrown out in a market economy. In a top down system the deciders say this is how it is and when there is a mistake it rarely gets fixed without political upheaval.

While we can try to fix Zimbabwe's problems, it is a real life example of why ceding power to the federal government to decide how I should plant crops, how to best stimulate the economy in NW Colorado is flawed thinking. Maybe the best way to help Zimbabwe is to stay out, offer micro loans if possible for individuals to start their own business'.



MrTaiChi 7 years, 1 month ago


Your observation is supported by political theorists, that the private ownership of land is the wellspring from which all freedoms flow.


sledneck 7 years, 1 month ago

The private ownership of ALL things is the wellspring. Private property is a concept so vital and basic that even a simple-minded dog understands it. Don't believe it? Try to take his bone!

Sub-Saharan leaders have sold their own down the river for generations. They have lived like kings while most of their people starve to death, thirst to death, never experience electricity, running water or medicine of any kind apart from that brought to them by the USA or others.

I used to think that perhaps it was a race or ethnic thing that would let a man rationalize the killing of his own people. The last decade or so of leaders here in America has convinced me that, rather than a race or ethnic thing, it is simply a heart condition. Men with evil, black hearts rule this Earth and so long as they do all who live under them will suffer.

The only solution to which I have ever subscribed is to reduce the control leaders have on their people to the absolute lowest degree possible short of total anarchy.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.